Thyroid Disorder Awareness Tips

A relatively small gland located in the neck performs a huge role when it comes to the way the body functions. The thyroid gland produces a hormone that influences every cell, tissue and organ in the body and regulates metabolism.

More than 12 percent of all Americans will develop some type of thyroid condition during their lifetime, according to the American Thyroid Association, and cancer is a growing concern.

Thyroid cancer is steadily increasing, especially in young women. Females are three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. There are various types of thyroid cancer, but most can be treated successfully. Thyroid cancer does not always produce symptoms; however, the first indicator of the disease is often a thyroid nodule. It is important to note that although these nodules can be common in adults over forty, they are typically not cancerous.

Additional symptoms associated with thyroid cancer include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sore throat or neck pain
  • Voice changes or hoarseness
  • Persistent cough
  • Trouble breathing

“Thyroid cancer is not always quickly recognized since its symptoms are similar to those of other diseases or problems,” said Joseph Aloi, M.D., professor of endocrinology and metabolism at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “However, because it can be genetic, people with a family history of thyroid disease should become familiar with the symptoms and see a physician should they occur.”

The more common non-cancerous thyroid disorders are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.

“Hypothyroidism is an underactive thyroid gland and occurs when the gland is unable to make enough thyroid hormone to keep the body running normally,” Aloi said. “Hyperthyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland is overactive and makes excessive amounts of thyroid hormone which can cause many of the body's functions to speed up.”

Below are some of the symptoms associated with these two thyroid conditions:

Hypothyroidism:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • Coarse, dry hair and even hair loss
  • Rough skin
  • Abnormal menstrual cycles

Hyperthyroidism:

  • Hand tremors
  • Mood swings
  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat
  • Increased frequency of bowel movement

“These conditions have extreme impacts on the body, yet the symptoms are just as hard to recognize because they mirror those of other diseases or problems,” Aloi said. “Fortunately physicians can administer tests that can determine how well the thyroid is functioning.”

Last Updated: 01-21-2016
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